River Crabs and May 35th


A sadly comic approach to circumventing Chinese censorship is seen in this version of the famous “Tank Man” photo of June, 1989.  Photo links to Asaf Uni’s article in Vocative.

Internet censors — known in China’s censorship circumventing code as “river crabs” — will be out in full force over the next few weeks. People will be arrested, protests will be thwarted,  and there may even be a few executions.

The mere mention of June 4, 1989 — sometimes called May 35th — brings on the censors and the police.

It is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, when the army attacked peaceful protesters in Beijing.

An official death toll has never been released, although estimates range from hundreds to thousands. Nor has there been any accounting whatsoever of the dozens who were executed following secret trials for taking part in the peaceful protests.

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Speaking with a dead voice?

By Bill Kovarik

(Reflections on the NY Times Innovation report, an internal investigation that should have begun more than a decade ago, and that, even today, barely scratches the surface). 

In 1911, a young muckraking journalist named  Will Irwin began a 14-part  series in Colliers magazine called The American Newspaper.    He profiled great editors, considered media ethics and described sensationalism and advertiser influence.

The American newspaper, he said, was  “wonderfully able, wonderfully efficient, and wonderfully powerful  (but) with real faults.”

The main fault was this:

 It is the mouthpiece of an older stock. It lags behind the thought of its times. . . .To us of this younger generation, our daily press is speaking, for the most part, with a dead voice, because the supreme power resides in men of that older generation.

Of course, Irwin was writing for a magazine, which, during the muckraking era, was the medium that was actively circumventing newspapers and the AP-Western Union monopoly.

In the spirit of  Will Irwin, I started visiting newsrooms to ask how they were coping with the new media about 15 years ago.  I was working on textbook called “Web Design for Mass Media” published in 2001.    Would the Web help the news business? Would it hurt? Most of all, was it (in the words of Henry David Thoreau) just an improved mean to an unimproved end?

What I found was intriguing,  alarming and appalling. Continue reading

Holding back history

HearstThe New York Times  ran a great column by Timothy Egan on May 8th comparing ultra-conservatives today to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst in the 1940s.

For a time, the press lord William Randolph Hearst did everything in his vast powers to keep the film “Citizen Kane” from finding an audience. He intimidated theater owners, refused to let ads run in his newspapers, and even pressured studio sycophants to destroy the negative.   

The point of Egan’s column was that the Koch brothers — those billionaire bozos — are pretty much trying the same thing with climate change, using their money

… to attack  the indisputable science on climate change, to buy junk scholars, to promote harmful legislation at the state level, to go after clean, renewable energy like solar, and to try to kill the greatest expansion of health care in decades. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can cause a lot of havoc.

But they have already lost the larger fight against progress and modernity, Egan  says.  Just as Hearst couldn’t hold down Citizen Kane,  the Kochs cant hold down scientific facts and progressive ideas about renewable energy and health care. Continue reading

The not-so-new concept of interactivity

Reading Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls,  the masterpiece of the famed Ukranian writer  (1809 – 1852), I recently realized just how old and how unexplored the concept of interactivity in publishing really is.

Readers of Revolutions in Communication know, for instance, that Elizabeth Eisenstein found instances where  map makers and scientific publishers asked readers with new information to correspond so that updates to gazettes and scientific journals could be incorporated in later editions. And many newspapers were produced with a fourth blank page that could be used to pass along family or community micro-news to other readers.

But I never came across anything quite like Gogol’s concept of interactivity in fiction: Continue reading

Radio interview with the author

Coy Barefoot of Inside Charlottesville interviews the author about Revolutions in Communication on March 4, 2014.

What if journalism can’t be “monetized” ?

It has often been observed that democracy is munted when there are fewer  independent fact-gathering operations or avenues for a diversity of opinion — what we used to call journalism. The hope, for the past decade, is that some formula can be found to “monetize” journalism — to make money from it.

An important new book,  Digital Disconnect  by Robert W. McChesney (excerpted in this article in Salon Magazine)  asks the bottom-line question:  What if journalism just can’t be monetized? What then?

Robert W. McChesney

McChesney is a professor at the University of Illinois and one the nation’s leading and most thoughtful media critics.  He’s the author of many other books such as Rich Media, Poor Democracy.

In Digital Disconnect notes with irony that the media saw the Internet effect  coming for decades,   and that for all its thrashing around with new apps and gadgets, trying to set up paywalls and link up with advertising, it has not solved the basic problem.

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Voting ends, proposal stands.

This video is an application for a iVersity-funded Massive Online Open Course (or MOOC) based on this book. Voting has ended and my proposal was not funded, but that is no great surprise or disappointment because there were some terrific courses being offered, and it was an honor to be seriously considered.   Here’s the link to the MOOC fellowship courses. Thanks. Bill Kovarik.

Epic fail, dude.

( News item:  National Security Agency monitoring online games. ) 

By Linda Burton

Hey did you catch that level 90 Hun-tard in guild flex? What a fricking noob! Why the hell didn’t the GM kick his ass? The dude face-pulled trash and wiped us twice! How he managed to have an ilvl high enough for SOO is unreal! Continue reading

It was the End of the World as we Knew It

(Update: Nov. 2012 — ProPublica maps the ongoing scandal.

(Update: May 2015 — Editor Andy Coulson on trial for perjury.)


The sheer mad genius of the thing.

Journalists bribing security guards.  Tapping cell  phones. Hacking computers. Spying on emails.

And not just once in a while, like the Cincinnati newspaper’s  Chiquita banana episode in 1997, or the Chicago Mirage Bar sting of 1974.

But permanently, as part of an ongoing operation, with an A-list of  targets including British prime ministers, rock stars, crime victims, even the royal family. Like Watergate in reverse gear.

The unprecedented, unmitigated  gall of News Corp. and its cheesy tabloid:  To run a private spy agency and dress it up as a newsroom.

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The newsroom and the greatest country

Among the hundreds of reviews of  HBO’s The Newsroom during the summer of 2012,  so far, none have questioned the basic accuracy of the screed heard round the world.

You can watch it at this link  or just read it here:

“And you — sorority girl — yeah — just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.”
“We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. America leads the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.”

Acerbic. Bitter.  Certainly human. But …  journalistically accurate?  Let’s take a look. Continue reading